Back then, Blake Shelton, Rob and Rachel were all struggling unknowns, touring in a band together to keep bread on the table. Rachel's initial attempts to get a recording contract in 1995 had all been met with rejections, and after about five years together, the couple divorced in Music City in 1999.
"Getting turned down makes you think about your focus. I think I was always following trends, thinking about what sounds good on the radio now and wanting to do that. I know the reason that wasn't working was because that wasn't me. I should have had the attitude: 'This is what I do. You like it or you don't.' Plus, I got divorced and had to grow up a little bit. I was going through being separated from Rob, trying to learn how to be independent, pay my own bills and do all that kind of stuff. But I was missing him, and so I started writing all these songs. And they were really concise, and I felt they were better than anything I had ever written."
Her songwriting confidence grew when artists such as The Lynns, Kortney Kayle and Sonya Isaacs began recording her compositions. Then, in 2001, it all started coming together. First, Martina McBride recorded Rachel's song "Where Would You Be," which later became a gigantic hit.
BNA Records, sister label to McBride's RCA label, asked to hear the new songs she'd been writing. The company had rejected her twice previously, so Rachel wasn't counting on anything. But the third time turned out to be the charm, and she signed with BNA Records, part of the RCA Label Group, in 2002.
Her debut album, Where I Belong, produced by noted songwriter Chris Lindsey, showcases her vocals, songwriting and musical diversity. The album includes the powerful single "Me and Emily," and the wistful, quiet balladry of the title track. With its string quartet, pretty melody and contemplative tone, Rachel cites it as her favorite song on the CD. But don't count out her solidly country delivery of "Strong as an Oak," featuring a harmony vocal by Darryl Worley. "If That Chair Could Talk" is a gentle piano ballad and "Shame on Me" is a country romp with bouncing fiddle bows.
The loneliness of "So Close," and the rocking youthful adventure in "We Did It Our Way" are all part of the emotional tapestry on display. And then there's the soaring, torrid desolation of "Didn't I" juxtaposed by the attitude driven "I'm Gonna Get You Back," and "If You're Gonna Leave Me(Leave Me Alone).
"It's a good mix of sounds," says Rachel. "We started out doing the tightly-produced sounding things in the early sessions. But then I brought in 'Strong as an Oak,' which I had written. And that led to us finding 'Shame on Me' and some of the more country things."
"I feel like I have learned so much in Nashville. I can't imagine never having made the move. Singing is basically all I've ever done. There was nothing else for me to do, and nothing else I wanted to do."